Alexander Pope & Cervantes

Published:  12:00 AM, 05 January 2017

A dulating their satirical art

This article evaluates the satirical excellence found in the works of the Spanish novelist Miguel De Cervantes and English poet Alexander Pope. It focuses on Cervantes's masterpiece Don Quixote and Alexander Pope's mock-epic The Rape of the Lock. In both these works Cervantes and Pope derided at the vainglory of certain classes of people in their respective countries. Cervantes satirized the heroics medieval knights were known for while Alexander Pope poked fun at the aristocratic society of England during the 18th century. Medieval knights in different European countries used to exercise royal authority over the common people on behalf of their kings or queens while the pompous noblemen and ladies of England in the 18th century used to waste most of their time on flirting with each other and on other flippant, silly activities.

Don Quixote is one of the most outstanding works of fiction beyond doubts in which Cervantes illustrates an eccentric man who assumed himself to be valiant enough to cap off knightly actions and moved around the countryside of Spain in search of adventures. The novel was titled after its protagonist's name Don Quixote. The story of the novel is narrated in such a way that blends both humor and thrill and Cervantes's ulterior motive to poke fun at the knights of different countries of Europe during his time gets exposed vividly through the hilariously hazardous events encountered by Don Quixote of La Mancha, the prime character of the novel.

Don Quixote's mind was filled with thoughts of carrying out acts of bravery like the heroes of chivalrous books. But only reading books on gallantry did not satisfy him, he decided to leave home to wander around Spain like knights and vanquish all hurdles that would come his way. Cervantes explicitly satirized Don Quixote's such plans which we come across in the following lines:
"In short, his wits being quite gone, he hit upon the strangest notion that ever madman in this world hit upon, and that was that he fancied it was right and requisite."

In the lines above Cervantes actually implied the lunacy that got hold of Don Quixote and was persuading him to go on knightly trips. He even decided to name his horse because a horse belonging to a knight should have a distinctive name and he named his horse Rocinante and he found this name 'lofty, sonorous and significant'. After naming the horse, Don Quixote started to ponder on another matter. He had a new concern in his head that his gallantry would remain imperfect without a 'Lady of his Thoughts'. So, he resolved to regard a pretty girl of his village as his beloved whom he named Dulcinea Del Tobaso. A satirical hint is given by Cervantes about Quixote's reference to this girl as his sweetheart in the following lines:

"There was so the story goes, in a village near his locality a very good-looking farm-girl with whom he had been at one time in love, though, so far as is known, she never knew it nor gave a thought to the matter."   These lines express the truth that actually Don Quixote's thoughts about this girl was absolutely a figment of his imagination because the girl neither loved him nor did she know that Don Quixote was in love with her. Cervantes, as it appears from his novel Don Quixote, intended to scoff at the people of his time around Europe who attained special privileges like knighthood from kings and queens by coaxing royal authorities. The influence and the power that medieval knights used to brandish over common people came under a harsh derogatory assault when Don Quixote by Cervantes was published.

The description of Don Quixote being dubbed with the knighthood is another example of Cervantes's derisive aim to show the idea of knighthood in a farcical light. While traveling around the Spanish countryside, Don Quixote one night dropped in an inn which he presumed to be an old castle. Quixote considered the innkeeper to be the lord of the castle and requested the innkeeper to dub him a knight. The innkeeper could figure out Don Quixote's lack of intelligence without much delay. However, he agreed to carry out the rituals to bestow knighthood on Don Quixote, which was, as a matter of fact a travesty of such a ceremony. In fact, the innkeeper wanted Don Quixote to leave his tavern quickly and that's why he consented to Quixote's plea without any arguments. It virtually caused an outburst of laughter among the spectators who were present in the tavern at that time.

However, Don Quixote's plucky musings about knightly errands were heavily jolted when he went out with his supposed squire Sancho Panza in pursuit of adventures. They both were beaten up severely by a group of gypsies. This kind of unfortunate and troublesome things happened to Don Quixote and his companion Sancho Panza several times. Instead of adorning himself with the image of a real hero, Don Quixote turned into a clownish figure again and again because of his own stupidity. Gradually Don Quixote's illusions about the dash and dazzle of knighthood evaporated as the novel approaches its end. We find in the novel's end how Don Quixote lost all his enthusiasm about knighthood as he came back home. Even at one point, Don Quixote confessed that his inflated ideas about knight errands were 'illusory and deceptive'. He decided to become a shepherd giving up all his knightly hopes. 

Like Cervantes's denigrating illustration of knightly deeds in Don Quixote, Alexander Pope (1688-1744), a leading English poet of the 18th century, assailed the aristocratic English men and women of his time through his satirical masterpiece The Rape of the Lock which he wrote in the form of a mock-epic. Alexander Pope ridiculed the pretty women of his era who used to spend most of their time putting on cosmetics and exhibiting their facial beauty to attract people of the opposite gender. Pope depicted the character of Belinda to present her as an envoy of her time and through her vanity and self-embellishment, he displayed the image of all other women belonging to the higher rungs of English society during 18thcentury. Pope could not support the involvement of the aristocratic English ladies and gentlemen in immoral and trivial preoccupations like flirting with each other.

When the Baron displayed his audacity by cutting off Belinda's hair lock, Belinda cried out in fury and grief. Her hair locks were precious beautiful features of her appearance, so she found this loss irreparable. Elegant women of the 18th century in England were not as concerned about their chastity as they were about their outward beautifulness. We may refer to the following lines in this context taken from The Rape of the Lock:
Oh hadst thou, Cruel! Been content to seize
Hairs less in sight, or any Hairs but these!  The above lines resonate with a vulgar undertone which Alexander Pope applied to add more fun to the mockery The Rape of the Lock was intended to execute.

However, Alexander Pope portrays another female character in The Rape of the Lock named Clarissa who is found advising Belinda to give up her vanities. Let's take a look at the following lines: Beauties in vain their pretty Eyes may roll; Charms strike the sight, but Merit wins the Soul. Through Clarissa, Alexander Pope in fact extended his own message to the aristocratic men and women of his time to get them rectified. The above lines put forward the importance of good sense and intellect on top of mere beauty. A woman's beautifulness may impress the eyes of others, but her knowledge and humanitarian qualities can conquer the hearts of everyone.

Alexander Pope keenly observed the useless whims and fancies of the upper-class people of England during the 18th century. He wanted them to be reformed, to pay less heed to minor things and to pay higher attention to important matters. He wrote The Rape of the Lock to serve this purpose. Thousands of years ago Aristotle stated in his book Poetics that all literary works should aim to entertain readers as well as illuminate them with ethical messages. Both Miguel de Cervantes and Alexander Pope have been able to achieve this aim with their unforgettable literary feats.


The writer is a literary critic for  The Asian Age

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